Chiefs Stand Firm Miller, Penalty Killers Pick Off Rockets
This was the one the Spokane Chiefs had to have.
They weren’t going to get it without goaltending.
Nobody bought into that notion any harder than the goaltender himself, Aren Miller, who prepared hard and played big Friday night in the Chiefs’ 6-2 series-tying win over the Kelowna Rockets.
“I prepared as hard for this one as any game all year,” said Miller, who swept aside 25 of 27 shots and was instrumental in shutting out the Rockets’ vaunted power play. “This was our biggest game of the year, by far.”
The Chiefs could have found themselves trailing three games to one in the Western Hockey League West Division quarterfinals heading into Sunday night’s Game 5 in the Arena. Instead, the series is knotted at 2.
“What a huge difference,” said Miller, who stayed focused after the Rockets jumped out to a 1-0 lead. “I wanted to come out with my strongest game of the series, especially after what happened Wednesday night in Kelowna.”
Miller was riddled that night in a 5-2 loss. “I thought about that for about 2 minutes after I got yanked and then I flushed it and moved on,” he said. “If it had been a one-game series we would have lost it there, but it’s not.”
The home club has yet to lose, a fact the Rockets have to alter if they’re to upset the No. 2-seeded Chiefs, who’ll play four of the seven games at home should this series go full term.
In executing all phases better than they have in three previous playoff games, the Chiefs turned on a team that had beaten them in seven of the last nine meetings.
A chunk of the credit goes to Miller, whose saves percentage after three games was a horrible .796.
“I just wanted to show my teammates, the coaching staff and the fans that I could bounce back after a bad outing,” Miller said.
Spokane held the Rockets scoreless in eight tries on the power play. Kelowna won two of the first three games in this series largely on the strength of its specialty teams - the power play and penalty kill.
The roles flip-flopped in this one.
This was also the first night the Chiefs’ artillery - their veteran forwards - fired in sync. Trent Whitfield had two goals and an assist. The other consistent threat in the series, Cam Severson, also scored a pair.
But this time they had ample backup. Greg Leeb had a three-point night. Derek Schutz got his first goal of the playoffs. Kris Graf, who had an assist, continued his bid to become the X-factor - the unsung player who makes a difference.
Finally, the Chiefs’ defensemen - outplayed in the first three games - established the clear advantage.
Zenith Komarniski, Rick Berry, Perry Johnson and Kyle Rossiter - playing his first game in nearly six weeks - were involved in the hitting and puck movement missing in Wednesday night’s 5-2 loss in Kelowna.
Two textbook hits - defensemen doing their jobs - led to early goals.
The Rockets scored first on a bizarre exchange. Komarniski delivered a pair of neutral-zone hits, but while he was cleaning out everything that moved, Kelowna’s Brett McLean picked up the puck with nobody between him and the goaltender.
McLean walked in alone on Miller and scored 5:40 into the game.
Miller’s key save might have come 2 minutes before that, when the Rockets came at him 2 on 1, McLean and Jason Deleurme teaming up.
The Chiefs took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission on goals by Severson and Komarniski, the latter’s coming with 8.9 seconds left in the period.
Spokane broke it open in the third with three goals in 3:55.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:
CHIEFS VS. ROCKETS
Best-of-7 series tied at 2-2
Game 4: Chiefs 6, Rockets 2
Game 5: Sunday at Spokane, 6 p.m.
Game 6: Tuesday at Kelowna, 7:30
Game 7: Wednesday at Spokane, 7*
* if necessary
This sidebar appeared with the story: CHIEFS VS. ROCKETS Best-of-7 series tied at 2-2 Game 4: Chiefs 6, Rockets 2 Game 5: Sunday at Spokane, 6 p.m. Game 6: Tuesday at Kelowna, 7:30 Game 7: Wednesday at Spokane, 7* * if necessary